Max Payne is a groundbreaking game; it takes the 3rd Person shooter to new levels. From the slickly presented and gorgeous graphics to the Max FX engine, that handles high amounts of detail, and clever scripting with a great degree of success. Bullet holes stick around, so does the blood, though no bullet holes or damage to the textures of the characters has been included in the game, but this isn't a detriment. Max himself is well animated and thanks to the innovative movement and control system never feels clunky or sluggish. The inclusion of bullet time and camera to the game adds the icing to an already fairly layered cake. Max Payne some have said is far too short, of this I do agree but if you let this new slice of gaming action slip you by on that fact, you're doing yourself and Remedy a grave injustice.
Because I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Max Payne is one of the best 3rd Person 3d shooters that I have ever played, now before some of you go off like a 9mm without a safety, I'll give you a few of my reasons before I get into the meat and bones of the review. For a start, PC Gamer in the UK agree with me and that's good to see that a Print Mag actually agrees with an Online Mag for once. But by the by here come some of my reasons.
Max Payne is gritty and dynamic, it's chock full of action and doesn't really slow down at all story wise, you're hurled from one encounter to the next with a series of neat twists and turns that would leave a writer like Tom Clancy wondering why he didn't have this level of backstabbing sneakiness in Rainbow Six, now for Rainbow Six fans before you flame grill me, this was a joke, not a reflection on the games themselves. Which I have a great deal of respect and love for, since I'm a tactical shooter person too.
Max Payne is also one of the very first games to pull off the much vaunted and much enjoyed Matrixy style bullet time, and spinning slow motion cameras. And it does it with a great deal of skill and finesse. But I'll come back to all that later on.
Max Payne has a lot of scope for mods, which extends the life of the game beyond the initial release and already it's building a decent collection of various add-ons and planned modifications, such as the inevitable Matrix mod. For those of you out there in the gaming world that have the game already, head to http://www.maxpaynecenter.com for a growing and expansive list of the currently available ones. Max comes bundled with various editing tools that are fairly easy to use. It looks like a lot of the game worlds objects and effects can be used and scripted to do some really funky stuff. I won't give the game away but there's a great level in Max Payne that does some amazing things with fire and moving objects. You'll see.
Those are just a few of the reasons why I think Max deserves a accolade of being one of the most innovative and bloody great action games of 2001, and I'll quite happily be quoted by any other site on this, or even the game publishers themselves.
Right, on with the review.
Max Payne is a modern classic set with film noir and many action film references, you are Max Payne, a cop who had a wife, kid and an American Dream of a Marriage till it all went wrong. As Max says, you have to go back three years, to when the pain all started. It's obvious from the start that Max's creators, Remedy have looked and listened to various films and film styles. But also it seems to me that they've taken a good look at the various Graphic Novels out there too, specially the kind of Frank Miller style. So right from the start you're hurled into a roller coaster ride of dark alleys, burned out tenements and dingy motels, diners. There's a war out there and you're smack bang in the middle. Max goes undercover and becomes a fugitive for the purposes of infiltrating a mob. It's all going to go wrong and you can smell it.
Max's story is brought to life via the Graphic Novel system, which is pretty damn cool, slickly presented once again, with some nice art and some very strange faces for the characters. Ok I can let that slide cause it's not a game breaker; it's a personal art taste. The novel runs at critical points during the game and sometimes kicks in when you answer a phone, or look at an important item.
Max's head will turn to look at the object and he'll have a kind of Final Fantasy style ! over his head. It's cool and allows you to see what you can interact with in that way.
The dialogue/script in the Graphic Novel is some of the best I have heard in a game and would very well suit a kind of Mike Hammer, Rick Deckard, Blade Runner film, and it does flow very well. It's all realised with some gorgeous sound, not only of voice but of background as well, phones clicking off, gunshots, and all the things you would expect from an animated scene, rather than a static page of pictures. Hats off again to Remedy for that entertainment factor.
So let's talk about the game, the 3d action part, this is what you wanna hear about right?
Max's graphics are quite astounding, the textures and the scenery are superbly created and realised through dynamic lighting, radiosity effects and all the cool effects we've come to expect from a game, animation and movement are top notch, and you'd expect them to be in an action game, cause if it doesn't look right then it's not going to give you that Woo effect when you start dodging bullets and firing back with two guns blazing. Max himself moves really well, he's gorgeously animated and fluidly runs around pulling the trigger with the greatest of ease.
Let's face it you need a pretty spiffy animation system to capture all the good things from action movies and games we know and love so well. So when the action slows down due to bullet time, you can see the level of detail is astounding, shells fly from the correct place on the guns, chambers slide back and firing hammers move with each shot. The muzzle flashes and the effects are nothing short of jaw dropping. Bullets whistle by with little trails and impact onto the surface with tiny sparks and varying effects. That's right, each surface reacts to a bullet differently, shoot a metal grate and you'll get a different effect and bullet mark, compared to shooting the daylights out of the tiles in the public bathrooms, which leaves a load of broken tiles and bullet holes. Ahem, anyways enough of my destructive tendencies.
So here goes my attempt to provide you with some more interesting information, why should you even bother buying this game? Well, there's a lot of nice spot touches to Max Payne that most games leave out, and it's full of a fair few hidden Easter Eggs, which I will leave you to find out yourselves, giving only one away. On the part two of the Subway Station, the game starts with a hole which you view Max through, if you can kill one of the bad guys before they use their grenade, and it takes some doing. Then just lob it in that hole; rats'll attack you a little later on in the level armed with Desert Eagles. The rest I leave up to you.
Also you can forgive Remedy for the fact that sometimes you pass through the scenery in the game when doing an odd dive or two towards a partially closing door, it's a little irritating but overly doesn't detract much, not when you're into bullet time and diving sideways, shots ripping into your enemies and painting the walls with their blood, walls, floor, ceilings and doors, err anything actually that gets splattered by the old crimson fluid gets stained. Let me explain it to you like this, after a gunfight in a room full of four mooks (Generic word for bad guy) this reviewer spent a good few minutes looking at all the damage that the guns had inflicted onto the surroundings and was most impressed at the level of decals in the room. It looked like a slaughterhouse. Bullet holes littered the room like petals, blood was everywhere around and the floor was covered with empty shell casings. It was at this moment that I fell in love with the game, regardless of the length of it, I was enamoured by the level of detail, fluid game play and kick ass effects. Graphical or otherwise.
The list of weapons isn't very extensive, but then again you're an average cop who is using your enemies' guns and stuff against them, you get the 9mm pistol and a desert eagle, of which you can wield two 9mils for that Woo Factor and pretend you're Chow Yun Fat. There are other guns and of course a nice Sniper Rifle, complete with a Bullet Cam, that tracks the round to the target, another wicked touch.
Sound in Max Payne is slick too, from the guns hammering their songs of destruction to the cries as you pepper the mooks with lead, background sfx and spot sfx are also used to a great degree. It all adds up to a wonderful experience.
Right, and last but not least. Bullet Time.
Bullet Time in Max Payne is what makes the game worth it, this little effect adds so much to the game play you'll find yourself being gunned down while you learn how to best use it to your advantage, but coming back for more and more. Until you click with how it works, use it to decimate a room full of guards and come out without a hair out of place. Yep you can do that. Bullet Time can be triggered in two ways, one with a quick tap of mouse 2 or a key, and two with a combination of Direction and Mouse 2 or a key. The latter is more impressive as Max performs a Bullet Dodge that slows time for 4-5 seconds or so, as he slides or dives through the air guns blazing. And damn me if it doesn't look cool! And because you aim in real time you can have a distinct advantage over the mooks, mowing them down while you sail past or even into the room. Collide with a door or window in Max and usually it opens or in the case of glass, shatters. This means you can stand to the side of a door, hit a bullet dodge and sail right into the room, guns blazing, twisting and turning, picking off men and women, left and right. Astoundingly good stuff and all in slow-motion.
At certain points during the game, killing a final mook will trigger a bullet camera motion as time slows down and the camera spins to show his final moments. These are not always the same throughout the game, by this I mean that first time you play you'll spot a lot of different effects and cameras like that, guys being shown falling off walkways, through trap doors and over balconies, all in slow motion plus a camera effect. Next time you'll play you'll get the same thing happen so it won't be as new, but it doesn't bother me, I'll still ooh and ahh at it.
While grinning like a Maniac.
Finally before my head explodes with the wickedness of Max Payne I have to mention the downsides for gamers, yeah, it's not multiplayer but we can handle that, I'm talking about the long level load times. If you can put up with that you're ok, cause the game loads all the level into memory and then you're away without another load until you end that part of the level and move on. But the astounding good news is that the save time is small, both main save and quick save, and the quick load is obscenely fast, so if you get killed, you can jump in again and again. Yay for that feature.
And you can't skip the cut-scenes either.
Right, that's about all I have to say on Max Payne apart from this.
"It was a cold night in the office as I sat and pushed the mouse across the desk, the mouse was a cold lump of plastic in my hand, soon to become the conduit for my twin guns of justice. Lady Liberty had taken a holiday and I was about to show these mooks a lesson in justice that they'd not soon forget."